28. March 2021
- Lawrence Edmondson
– At ESPN since 2009
– F1 journalist accredited by the FIA since 2011
- Nate Sanders.
F1 Deputy Editor
– He has previously worked in rugby and British Superbikes.
– Studied history at the University of Reading
– Member of ESPNF1 in February 2014
Despite the millions of dollars and hours of work invested by Mercedes and Red Bull this winter, the two cars of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen were separated by just 0.7 seconds Sunday night after 300 kilometres of racing.
The close result is the best Formula 1 could have hoped for and promises to be the most exciting title fight in years.
What made the race so great was that it could have gone either way.
Red Bull had the advantage at the net, but Mercedes were close enough that a clever tyre strategy could turn the tide.
Hamilton had one of the best races of his career. Verstappen, honestly, no. But the two hours of entertainment that preceded it were an absolute blockbuster.
Lewis beats Max
Lewis Hamilton took his 96th win of the season at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Victory in Formula 1. Clive Mason – Formula One via Getty Images
The fact that the two cars were close in performance meant that the drivers and strategists could make up the difference, which was essential to the entertainment value.
Verstappen was slowed somewhat by the poor behaviour of his car’s differential, which ruined the car’s performance in the first sector. It wasn’t the deciding factor in the race, but it was enough to get the better of Hamilton at the start of the race and keep the pressure on.
Holding a small lead over Verstappen at the start of the race was the key to victory, as it allowed the Mercedes pit wall to adopt a very aggressive tyre strategy.
With two tyre changes on the schedule, the world champion got up to speed as quickly as he could, taking over track position from Verstappen at the first pit stop and using a passing move to put the Red Bull driver in position to win the race.
The plan worked, as the Red Bull driver came out of the first pit stop behind Hamilton, albeit with tyres that were five laps behind.
In response to Mercedes’ decision to have Hamilton stop 13th. By dropping out on the second lap, Red Bull changed course and focused on the fact that Verstappen’s strategy included an edge on tyre life.
Hamilton recaptured the lap on lap 28, just before Verstappen got close enough to try to pull away and retake the position. This again forced Red Bull to focus on optimising its current stop and attack at the end of the race on the freshest tyres. Mercedes, however, had a different counterattack in mind.
Max Verstappen leads Lewis Hamilton going into the first corner of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Lars Baron/Getty Images
The idea was to bring in Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was third behind Verstappen at the time and could force Red Bull to make an earlier pit stop.
When Bottas came out on lap 30, he had the potential to pass Verstappen, just as Hamilton had done at the start of the race.
Red Bull had plenty of time to react and keep Verstappen in the lead, but sacrificed the tyre advantage it was hoping to build towards the end of the race.
Bottas was not impressed with Mercedes’ tactics. He felt like a pawn in a chess game between Hamilton and Verstappen, but if he had stayed away, he probably wouldn’t have found a way past Verstappen anyway.
Mercedes will therefore either make an early stop by Verstappen to defend against Bottas and strengthen Hamilton’s lead or, if Verstappen stays out, have a two-car lead over Red Bull.
In the end, the strategy failed as Bottas’ right wheel nut seized during the pit stop, leaving the Finn with no chance of securing the top two places.
Valtteri Bottas is third by a wide margin in the second Mercedes. Lars Baron/Getty Images
The sliding nut was good news for Red Bull, as it allowed Verstappen to stick to his original plan of extending his second stop to lap 39 and come out 8.8 seconds behind Hamilton for the final stop, but with 11 laps of fresher tyres.
This tyre had the advantage of sawing Hamilton off the lead by less than a second in 11 laps.
I thought so: My goodness, there’s no way to deal with that when the tyres give out, especially in the last 10 or 15 laps, Hamilton said.
But it’s not my first rodeo – I was trying to find the right balance to not overload the tires, but also to not get the same time as him, because when he comes out he will be much, much faster on new tires, so I tried to close the gap to about 10 seconds.
I think he came out of the hole and was eight seconds behind or something, and he started to close that gap very, very quickly. And then he stopped for a moment. I think I was able to pick up the pace, but then the tires started to give out again.
When the team told me he would overtake us with ten laps to go, I knew we were an easy target at that point – but I just tried to stay positive and ride as close to the thumb as I could.
Everything is set up fantastically, and it’s once again up to the drivers to make the most of their situation: Hamilton had the track position, but Verstappen had a faster car and fresher tires.
Verstappen’s big chance came on lap 53 when he passed Hamilton on the outside of Turn 4, but he went wide on the exit of the turn.
Race control informed Red Bull that Verstappen had to regain his position. The message was passed to Verstappen at Turn 8, and the Red Bull driver gave the position back to Hamilton on the exit of Turn 10.
A series of small errors, including a slide in Turn 13, apparently damaged Verstappen’s tyres further, and he didn’t have enough grip in the remaining laps to take part in another test.
I came into Turn 13 and had a big roll and from then on I had no tires to attack, Verstappen said. Of course my tyres were ten or eleven laps behind, but with these cars that advantage disappears very quickly when you’re within a second and a half and, as I said, with the wind in the direction it came from, that didn’t help.
With these cars, having a spot on the track has been very important for the last three years, and we gave that up today.
Lewis Hamilton held off Max Verstappen in the final laps. Clive Mason – Formula One via Getty Images
After the race, Verstappen questioned the decision to give his place back to Hamilton when he could have accelerated, taken a likely five-second penalty and tried to make up for it by building a five-second gap on the track.
But Red Bull team boss Christian Horner wasn’t sure it would work.
I think it’s very difficult, we had a directive from the race committee to return the seat immediately, Horner said. Max was very athletic and passed. It was disappointing and Lewis had enough to hold his position for the rest of the race.
There’s no guarantee we would have got five seconds if there had been a penalty. He did the right thing.
Victory went to Hamilton and Mercedes, but Red Bull will leave Bahrain with their heads held high.
Verstappen was the fastest driver this weekend, but Mercedes and Hamilton drove better.
If anyone had told me this would be the result on Sunday, I probably wouldn’t have believed them, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said after the race.
So far, to be honest, we’ve always lacked pace in qualifying and I think we were competitive today. We’re definitely competitive.
The strategy changed everything. In the beginning we made a bold decision [to pit early] and we took a position on the track. And then, at the end, the racing gods were on our side.
Vettel still nowhere to be seen
Sebastian Vettel made his Aston Martin debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Clive Mason – Formula One via Getty Images
After a miserable final season at Ferrari in 2020, it seemed that things could only get better for Sebastian Vettel in 2021.
In his new home at Aston Martin, he hoped to find a competitive team and a supportive environment to develop and rediscover the potential that had taken him to four world titles with Red Bull between 2010 and 2013.
But judging by his first weekend, it could have been worse this year.
Lance Stroll’s team showed that the Aston Martin is almost capable of finishing in the top ten, but the only points Vettel recorded in Bahrain were due to his super license.
He was sent to the back for ignoring yellow flags in qualifying, which earned him three penalty points. He scored two extra points for taking out Esteban Ocon late in the race. These two incidents are not what you would expect from a four-time world champion.
Yellow flags in qualifying also prevented him from setting a time fast enough to get through the first qualifying session, and his poor starting position allowed him to try a one-stop race strategy that was doomed to fail.
It’s only one race out of 23, but in a year where Vettel is hoping to restore his reputation, the start couldn’t be worse.
Lando Norris put up a good fight against Charles Leclerc. Lars Baron/Getty Images
The consensus this year is that 2021 will be a key year for Lando Norris and his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Although Norris impressed in his first two years in F1 alongside Carlos Sainz, he was still an unknown quantity. With Ricciardo, Norris is up against a multiple Grand Prix winner, a driver who is considered a world champion due to his pedigree.
After the first weekend, it looks like Norris is more than an opponent for the Australians. He had just qualified with Ricciardo on Saturday, and the two drove wheel to wheel for the first few laps of the race. When the safety car came out, Norris was slightly ahead and held his position.
From then on he never looked back, and fourth place was a fitting reward for a brilliant performance. Norris got away well from Charles Leclerc at the halfway point and showed brilliant race sense to take over the lead.
Ricciardo was in good spirits for his first race and admitted he still had work to do to get the most out of his new car.
I think the weekend as a whole, was pretty happy, he told Sky Sports. The race itself, where I struggled for speed. I don’t think it was a strong race, but there are things to work on and learn.
In the first few laps after the restart my pace was more comparable to Lando and Charles, but as the race progressed I felt like I was going back and forth and trying to push the tire, I felt like I was cooking it.
There are still some adjustments I can make to the car. Also learn about the ideal location of the vehicle on the network.
I was in turn two and I was trying to get around Mick because he was so close. Too much power and the tires didn’t hold. I was wrong. I’m very disappointed.
Mazepin’s appalling F1 debut
Nikita Mazepin’s debut in Formula 1 was short-lived. Lars Baron/Getty Images
Nikita Mazepin will probably not have good memories of his first weekend in Formula 1. The controversial Russian driver spun several times during the weekend – including twice during qualifying on Saturday night – and the last one was the worst.
Mazepin’s blunder, for which he was not responsible, happened after only three corners. The Russian stepped on the accelerator too soon and lost control of his car in the third bend.
Mazepin said he was too close to teammate Mick Schumacher and had to swerve.
I really tried to avoid Mick because he was so close, Mazepin said after the race. Too much power and the tires didn’t hold.
I was wrong. I’m very disappointed.
He added: Very simply, I made a mistake. The tires were cold and I went up the curb, gave too much gas and spun. Absolutely my fault. Too bad for the team, because they deserved so much better. Very angry with myself… Yeah, sorry about the team.
Earlier this year, Mazepin told ESPN that he wanted fans to judge him on his on-court performance, not his off-court controversies.
Mazepin’s teammate Mick Schumacher spun, but managed to keep the car out of the wall and finished his first Formula One race 16th out of 16 drivers.
frequently asked questions
What is the slowest Formula 1 car?
4 – Slowest lap time in Formula 1 history Many consider the 190 to be the worst Formula 1 car of all time. He was so underpowered that he would have underperformed in F3000 and struggled to get into the lead in F3.
Which driver has the most wins in the Bahrain Grand Prix?
Sebastian Vettel is the most successful driver in Bahrain, with a total of four consecutive wins for Red Bull (2012, 2013) and Ferrari (2017, 2018). Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton won the Bahrain Grand Prix three times, while Felipe Massa won twice.
What is the Verstappen rule?
Unofficially known as the Verstappen rule, drivers must accumulate points based on their success in junior races in order to compete in Formula One. … Ricciardo would win the race from pole position; Verstappen, who started last, finished ninth.
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